Developing personal resilience

In times of extreme change – as we have seen in 2020 – resilience becomes important to not only survive, but also to thrive.

Resilience is often used to describe an ‘ability to cope’ – like a spring that bends under pressure that then ‘snaps back’ when the pressure is released.

As we have learned from the accelerated and amplified change of 2020 and the COVID pandemic, not everything that changes ‘snaps back’ – which means that the change pressure doesn’t go away, it remains in place and may even get greater.

Consider your life experience through the pandemic, and in particular what has changed for your you:

  • What changes have occurred that will now remain as the new ‘normal’?
  • What changes occurred that will ‘snap back’ to the way they were when the change pressure is removed?
  • What changes have been started that will go even further now they have begun?

By answering these three questions it becomes clear that simply resisting change and waiting for everything to snap back is not a path to success.  Coping is simply not enough.  The old British standard of ‘carry on and it will be OK’ really does not cut it.

Resilience has to mean so much more than this.

Developing personal resilience is so important to shift the way we experience life – from simply bending under the pressures of change to adapting and growing in new and valuable ways.  Rather than staying stuck, resilience is about finding the path to getting unstuck when external change occurs.

Defining resilience

Resilience therefore is not just tolerating change pressure. Instead, we could define resilience as the capacity to generate valuable responses to all types of change pressure as they are encountered.

Whilst 2020 can be seen as an amplification and an acceleration of change pressures that you have experienced, life always contains change. What you learn about your inherent capacity to positively adapt under big change pressure of 2020 can serve as a powerful success tool for the rest of your life.  Change will always occur across our lives and being resilient is something you should highly value.

The capacity to positively respond

If the change pressure is transient and things will snap back to the way they always were, then simply coping and tolerating the change pressure is indeed a valuable skill. This would be a ‘static’ type of resilience, where we have to simply outlast the pressure to be ok.

However, if the change pressure involves things remaining changed or changing even further, then this style of ‘resilience’ will not be enough. Like a spring, we will reach a point where we cannot absorb any more force and will break. Sometimes the harder we try to cope with what is happening the more brittle that we feel.  If in the exercise at the start of this post you acknowledged that things will remain changed or some things will change further, then simply ‘coping’ will not be enough.

Being resilient then shifts to being a positive capability to learn, grow and build skills that help you thrive in the changed conditions. The capacity to respond to change pressure and therefore being resilient relies on a capacity and a capability to adapt. To be able to continuously grow and expand the capability means that we can manage disruptive forces that emerge unexpectedly in our lives, with increasing resilience allowing us the personal power to readily respond to new shocks and surprises in more valuable ways.

Being resilient is built upon the potential to:

  • Have the opportunity to respond
  • Have the skills to respond
  • Have the resources to respond

Opportunity to respond:

People need the opportunity to discover better ways of responding, not just coping with the load of the change pressure. However, people that are struggling can feel that they are at full capacity with just getting by.  They are so focused on doing what they can to get through that and there is no space in which to do anything else. They are often busy, fully committed and have a list of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ that drive them.

People in this position often have no physical and mental bandwidth available to think about things differently or act differently – often they are running stories, anxieties and worries and feel overloaded just coping with getting through the day.  This stops them attempting to solve problems in new ways rather than simply doing what they have always done – they give themselves no opportunity to respond because they are so busy coping.  To have the opportunity to respond, it can be important to create some space, become observant of yourself and take some time to appreciate the way you are coping with the loads that you are under. Taking the time creates the opportunity to see things differently and potentially do thing differently.

Skills to respond:

Responding to change requires a whole set of skills to be amplified that are often not fully utilised when things are going along as normal. Managing in uncertainty, creating options, prioritising, being OK with failure, experimentation, networking, communication, understanding trends and their implications are all skills that aid a positive response to change pressure. These are often devalued and not employed as people prefer the status quo of living in the certainty of their routines.  By doing what they have always have done there is a ‘safety’ that taking risks in uncertainty does not provide.

As people ‘hunker down’ and simply get on with their day-to-day lives, they do not practice or develop skills of critical thinking, challenging and inventing – only following patterns and completing tasks in their usual ways. Unless people actively build these skills and encourage their use then the likelihood is that the status quo will act as a major dampener on any positive response to change. Starting with the smallest experiments and explorations can be a great place for people to start.

Resources to change:

People need the resources with which to experiment with. Not every first response will be perfect, and at times of change people should be actively encouraged to use resources in ‘experiments and explorations’ that allow the possibility of an innovation to emerge. Innovation is imprecise and messy. Unless people have the resources they need to support the application of adaptive skills, then a positive response to change is less likely. It can be useful to ask yourself what you can stop doing that keeps you stuck – which may free up resources for you to experiment with finding more effective ways to operate in times of change.

Being resilient is more than just a personal trait. It is a considered capacity built on the combination of opportunity, skills and resources supported by an open and positive mindset that lets you see the value of possibility.  It should encourage appropriate experimentation and exploration of novel approaches to cope.  This helps people not only survive times of change, but to respond in ways that set you up for sustained success.

Questions for reflection:

  • How are you building ‘resilience’ into your approach to living through an open and positive mindset?
  • How will you choose to respond to the change pressures that will not just ‘snap back’?
  • Where can you create the opportunity, skills and resources to build a more resilient way for you to operate under change pressure?

Contact me if you want to explore how you can become more resilient and find a better way to live your life.